Notice women billionaires are rare. The world’s gilded have mostly been men. Some lucky dogs are born billionaires; others become billionaires through robbing the state; while some others earn the prize by sheer genius and sweat. You and I know well how the Third World leaders, dead or alive, own Swiss accounts that legends are made of. Guys like the late Indonesian President Suharto, late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Pakistan’s Zardari and Sharifs, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Libya’s Gaddafi, and Yemen’s Abdullah Saleh, to name a few. The World Bank estimates that these corrupt regimes steal $20–$40 billion from the national kitty each year; only $5 billion has been returned over the past 15 years.

But the men who stole to become billionaires are being put to shame just by one woman who has joined the billionaire’s club and is fast moving to the first position. J.K. Rowling, a single-mom is today cashing in six billion dollars with her Harry Potter movies alone. Just by using one tool — her pen, the cash-strapped mother who began by writing in public toilets because they were heated while her baby Jessica slept in the stroller, has left all other novelists behind. In 1990, while travelling on a train from Manchester to London, the story of Harry Potter hit her. It arrived “fully formed” into her mind. “I really don't know where the idea came from. It started with Harry, then all these characters and situations came flooding into my head.”

What is so unique about Harry Potter series? It’s the story of good versus evil. Harry Potter’s final battle between his mortal enemy Lord Voldermort is currently being screened in the theatres in America. It is a box-office hit just like the previous ones. So how did an ordinary woman with no fancy college degree in creative writing (these days it’s virtually mandatory for fiction writers to attend intensive creative writing workshops) beat everyone to it? Rowling may not have studied at Harvard, but she was invited to give the commencement address in 2008. She told the fresh Harvard graduates how she considered herself “the biggest failure” seven years after she graduated. Her life was a mess - a failed marriage, no job, and a kid to take care of. “Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential,” she told her hushed audience. “I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised…I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

* * * * *

Jill Abramson is the first woman to replace a man as the editor of the world’s most influential newspaper, the New York Times. Bill Keller, the present editor will move to a full time writing job at the Times Sunday Magazine which is already giving a new look of vibrancy and sauciness with cover stories like ‘Infidelity keeps us together.’ Keller’s column appears at the beginning of the magazine every week. His recent column on Sarah Palin as a lightheaded female with no chances of ever becoming the US president earned him four-letter-word abuse from Palin’s admirers. Writes one reader: “As a man, replaced by a woman, you (Bill Keller) might think you were bitter.” Says another: “I would recommend any journalist, before looking at diversity outside our borders and in our cities, look at the diversity at their own people. Take a year off… become immersed in conservative culture, and you just might find your ivory tower is a rather lonely place to live.”

Martin Fee of Florida asks the Times editor whether “liberal pseudo-elite” journalists (like Keller) are that stupid or has he just deluded himself into thinking the American people are the stupid ones?

Keller is a brave man who has the guts to stick out his neck and give his measured opinion in his columns knowing that he’ll invite backlash from certain quarters. He also has the courage to print even the most negative criticism against him in his paper. How many editors of newspapers and journals, do you know of, back in Pakistan, who put themselves in the forefront of readers’ attacks? I can’t think of any. It is not the custom for our editors to express their personal opinions; they merely oversee the newspaper and its day-to-day publication. But the 160-year-old New York Times is unique. Not only does it have a public editor who scrutinises and censures the Times’ content, often with critical comments, holding the writer, reporter and the editor responsible for the errors and lapses, but openly endorses political contestants starting from the president of the USA. It declared its support for Obama against McCain quite early in the last presidential race.

But not all of Times readers are impressed by its “elitist, pseudo-intellectuals” as the editors including Keller are accused of. “You or your ilk,” writes another very angry reader, spew “pointless, nonproductive words” which has no worth ochzero, nada, nothing.” The opinion of the New York Times does not create jobs, it solves none of the problems of humanity, the reader continues. “You’re a propagandist. You write fiction designed to dupe imbeciles. I find you to be a mindless Liberal robot and a bit of a joke. Have a nice day.”

Jill Abramson, 57, slotted to take over from Keller on September 6 will indeed make history. She’ll replace a man!

* * * * *

A serial predator at the IMF finally shuffles off to fight charges of rape/sexual assault on a hotel maid in New York, leaving the chief’s chair to be filled by a woman who is a good five inches taller than her predecessor Dominique Strauss Kahn (DSK)! The former French finance minister Christine Lagarde is a divorced mother of two who did not “clamber into the cabinet room of the Elysee Palace via the narrow, winding, stairs of the ‘grande ecoles’ or tribal, party allegiance. She did it her own way, albeit with a touch of Gallic flair. She values her femininity as much as she does the brain that has helped her outcompete so many men.”

One more upset for a male whose sister has won by popular vote in Thailand to become the next prime minister! “She’s my clone,” said the exiled Thaksin in a disparaging tone, hoping to return after she led his party to victory. But Yingluck has been elected by her people. They want her instead of the brother. A triumphant Yingluck said: “people are giving me a chance and I will work to my best ability for the people.” Only two months ago, she was unknown to the Thais. The politically inexperienced businesswoman upstaged the ruling elite and military-backed Prime Minister Abhisit.

So here’s the story of four women, world’s most influential in their own spheres — cinema, newspaper, finance and politics. They have recently replaced men. How come? Here’s the new IMF president’s response: “Based on my own experience, women will tend to be inclusive, to reach out more, to care a little more.”

The column has enough meat for our male chauvinists in Pakistan to chew on. Here’s hoping they’ll reform or else get replaced by women!

anjumniaz@rocketmail.com

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